During the 2021 ICSOM Conference in Pittsburgh, a few topics raised in our American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) report appeared to be of particular interest. The first was the Pension Estimator, which can be found on the AFM-EPF website at www.afm-epf.org. The second involved information about participants who are divorced when applying for their pension benefit. Lastly, I’ve included a reminder about post retirement survivor benefits that bears repeating.
As a participant, you can log into your individual account to find all sorts of information, to sign up to receive pension notices via email rather than hard copy, and to check your pre-retirement beneficiaries. You’ll also have access to the Pension Estimator where you can see an approximate monthly benefit and how that could change depending on the date you begin benefits or whether you choose an option that provides a benefit to your spouse or other Joint Annuitant after your death. The Pension Estimator uses your contribution information and also allows you to enter estimated projected future contributions.
In 2007, ICSOM Delegates adopted a resolution asking the AFM-EPF to develop a transactional website and later advocated for a Pension Estimator that would allow participants to view their anticipated benefit between the ages of 55 (when early retirement can begin) through age 65. (As a practical matter, though, most symphonic musicians are unable to take a pre-age 65 early retirement benefit without retiring from their orchestra.) While the AFM-EPF Pension Estimator included this anticipated benefit calculator on launch, a later feature allowed participants to add further anticipated contributions if they are a number of years from retirement. Until recently, estimates did not go beyond age 65, so any participant wanting to defer their benefit for another few years would have to call the Fund Office for an estimate. We were thrilled to announce this past summer that the Fund has further enhanced the Estimator, which will now calculate your benefit through age 72, when distribution is mandatory under IRS rules.
If you have not registered for the website, you will need your six-digit Pension ID (PID) number that can be found on your annual covered earnings statement (or you can contact the Fund Office at 212-284-1311).
The topic of divorced participants applying for their retirement benefit also was discussed. Divorce decrees and divorce settlements sometimes contain conditions pertaining to a participant’s pension benefit. In order to assure a pension is properly divided, the participant and ex-spouse must obtain a special document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). The Fund Office must have a copy of the divorce documents and any QDRO when a participant is applying for their pension benefit because Fund attorneys need time to review them to assure the benefit is paid properly. Failure to provide these documents during the application process can potentially delay your initial pension distribution.
The Fund Office recommends that if you divorce before applying for your pension benefit, send a copy to the Fund at the time of your divorce so it will be in your file (and one less document to look for) to hasten the path of your application. The QDRO Procedure and a model QDRO to make the process faster and easier are available on the website or by request to the Fund Office.
Another issue that was not covered in detail at the conference but is important to remember is that once you begin receiving your pension benefit, you cannot change your form of payment or, if applicable, the person you designated as your Joint Annuitant. As a reminder, at the time you retire, you may select a Single Life Benefit or a Joint and Survivor Benefit with either 50% or 75% payable after your death to the person you designate as your Joint Annuitant. (If you’re married at that time, you need your spouse’s consent to choose certain options.) If you choose one of the survivor benefit options, you cannot change your Joint Annuitant after you begin benefits, even if you were to divorce later. There are slightly different rules for additional contributions you are credited with for work after you retire and you should check with the Fund Office if you have questions about these rules.
Much of this information can be found on the AFM-EPF website. Trustees and Fund Staff are working to add more information to help provide answers. Please be sure to contact the Fund Office with any questions or comments, or reach out to your AFM-EPF Union Trustees.